Anxiety. Sometimes even just reading the word can be triggering.
Anxiety is a broad condition that encompasses a huge range of meanings. For some, anxiety means a little underlying hint of nerves before heading into a meeting; for others, anxiety is a debilitating condition that includes worry or panic—the kind that makes it impossible to feel safe leaving your home.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older—or 18.1% of the population—according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And in the yoga community, having anxiety is somewhat stigmatized because of the preconceived assumption that if you practice yoga seriously, you should be calm and stress free. Yet we’re all human, as well as imperfect. Which means of course, you can be a yogi who also deals with anxiety.
The First Step to Ease Anxiety Is Learning How to Accept It
Those with anxiety know that some days, no matter how much you do to avert it, the anxiety is there to stay. So, instead of resisting what is (read: feeling anxious), why not try accept and embrace your anxiety?
The first way to move toward acceptance and away from resistance is to ask: “What is my anxiety trying to teach or show me right now?” Reflecting on this question may help us find insights that switch our perspective from anxiety being a “bad” thing that we have to get rid of, to something that gives us an opportunity for growth. This changes everything. When we look at anxiety as a teacher, it opens up the possibility for growth in areas that we have not yet reached before. Most of time when we try to resist or control something, it’s because we do not feel safe. Reminding ourselves that everything that is happening is for our personal growth and benefit can help us to relax a bit more and trust in the timing of our lives.
Why You Should Actually Be Grateful for Anxiety
Another technique to change your relationship to anxiety is to try to cultivate a sense of gratitude for it. (Yes, you read that right!)
Most of the time, anxiety is the result of repressed emotions that need to be released. This can be repressed grief, sadness, anger, or fear (just to name a few) that are now manifesting as anxiety since they have not yet been expressed in their true form. Even though we’ve trained our minds so well to swallow certain negative emotions, our bodies seek the opposite and try to release these stored energies through any means possible. If not released in a healthy way, these trapped emotions will manifest as anxiety or illness.
So, when anxiety shows up in our lives, the practice of learning how to be grateful for it can be truly transformative, as it helps us learn that anxiety may just be the body’s way of trying to signal that there are some deep-seated, repressed emotions hiding below the surface, and that we are now ready to release them.
7 Yogic Strategies to Help Ease Anxiety
Along with looking for the lesson in the anxiety, and then shifting into a feeling of gratitude for it, there are many other ways to begin to uncover and release some of those repressed emotions that may be causing your anxiety in the first place. Occasionally in the yoga posture practice, we will see a spontaneous release of stored emotions (i.e., I’ll see students start to cry after a long hold in a hip-opening posture). That is the body’s natural way of releasing that repressed stored emotion in the body.
Through asana, as well as other mindful practices, we can intentionally work on releasing some of those stored emotions to diminish anxiety and restore equilibrium to our emotional state of being.
Here are 7 ways to release trapped emotions in the body and change the way we relate to our anxiety: